Two albums for the price of one! This extra-long playing CD is a reissue of celebrated banjoist/vocalist Cynthia Sayer's first two albums. Originally titled "The Jazz Banjo Of Cynthia Sayer (Vol 1)" featuring Milt Hinton & Dick Wellstood, and "More Jazz Banjo (Vol 2)" featuring Bucky Pizzarelli & Dick Wellstood, both of these albums grabbed international intention upon their release, and both were selected by CADENCE MAGAZINE as a "Top-10 Classic Jazz Release" for their release year.
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While many people who are into jazz are always looking for the next newest thing (perhaps you), there are also people (perhaps you) who listen to jazz of the past and get transported to that place and time, or at least what is thought of as how things were then. In other words, the music, which was a part of the culture of the time, recreates the essence of that era in which it was played.
There are some performers, however, who for some reason connect so well with the past that their music feels totally authentic. Cynthia Sayer is one of those artists.
In listening to Cynthia - The Reissue Recordings, there is no mistaking that here is a performer who is totally inside the style, somehow living and breathing its very essence. Sayer is a consummate performer, not only playing a very sharp four-string banjo, but also singing with a voice that will melt all but the hardest of hearts.
These performances come from twenty years ago, and one can only imagine how a young performer making her first recording must have felt to be able to play with Milt Hinton, Bucky Pizzarelli, and Dick Wellstood. Hinton, born in 1910, actually worked with many of greatest performers in the '20s and '30s. Wellstood (who died shortly after these sessions) is acknowledged as one of the supreme masters of stride piano and the music of that time. Pizzarelli is one of the preeminent swing guitarists living today. Together, they provide an extremely solid backdrop for Sayer's enthusiasm.
The point here is not the mere recreation of a dead style, but the expression of the very soul of a person who comes alive through this music. “Classic” or traditional jazz has two main characteristics. The first is that for the most part, it is tied to the song or tune. Thousands of well-crafted tunes form the bedrock of jazz through the Swing Era. Whether it is played or sung, the tune sets the mood, and the words inform the improvisers. Many of the tunes played have an harmonic structure that places it in time, as does the kind of rhythmic treatment it receives. The second one is that recording technology limited performances to about three minutes, so there was no “stretching out.”
This release is made up of 23 tracks totaling 77 minutes, so the average track length is about three and a half minutes. Nothing feels rushed, however, since everyone involved is used to this aesthetic. Wellstood does so many things so perfectly that it is a joy to listen. For example, on “When I leave The World Behind,” he plays the right chords behind Sayer in her rubato intro. Then when the tune takes off for the banjo solo, he fills in the spaces between the banjo phrases with answers, and many times plays subtle counterpoint under everyone. His short solo is a textbook example of economy.
Pizzarelli is heard mostly on the second set, and also is simply wonderful, especially on “Someone to Watch Over Me.” He starts out with a beautiful melody chord rendition, then provides counterpoint to Sayer’s banjo melodic declamation and finally is the sole accompanist to Sayer’s exquisite vocal. Sayer's banjo playing is very solid, both in single note and chordal solos, but it is her voice that makes her a total package.
This release might just be the perfect introduction to the jazz of the twenties and thirties. Sayer lives it, loves it, and is a superb communicator. Highly recommended.
--ALL ABOUT JAZZ, Budd Kopman
Cynthia Sayer - banjo, vocals, arrangements
Dick Wellstood - piano
Bucky Pizzarelli - guitar
Milt Hinton - string bass
Greg Cohen - string bass
Fred Stoll - drums
"Miss Sayer finds lively banjo harmonies and provocative phrasing ... a rare jazz banjoist."
THE NEW YORK TIMES
"Sayer is considered to be among a small group at the top of the jazz banjo world."
Versatile Cynthia Sayer picks an expert banjo, strums a steady guitar, and sings with swing and charm. She is one of a kind."
"One of the best jazz banjo players in the world."
THE GOLD COAST BULLETIN (Australia)